It’s interesting to come across a play that is as perfectly balanced as Rosemary Rowe’s The Good Bride, presented by Northern Light Theatre and playing at the PCL Studio until October 24. Not that I really expect to see soapbox-type shows in Edmonton, but most plays on a particular topic end up coming down on one side or the other as the play reaches its closing. Not so with The Good Bride, and that’s what makes this show so interesting.
The Good Bride is about Maranatha Graham’s coming-of-age, which happens as she waits night after night for her father to bring her fiancé Pete to her before they head off to a wedding ceremony Maranatha’s father has planned, where authority over Maranatha will transfer from her father to Pete. Maranatha, her father, and Pete are part of the Independent Baptist faith, which holds conservative beliefs about birth control (birth control – even natural – is not allowed), women (they shouldn’t think or behave independently), and God (he communicates directly with the men of the household).
Maranatha’s father has sent her to the Pullman’s house and instructed her to be dressed in her wedding dress every day between 3:00 p.m. and midnight in case that day is the day he brings Pete to Maranatha to be wed. As Maranatha waits and waits (we join her about 2 weeks into her time of waiting), she believes Satan has been putting thoughts into her head about what she’s been asked to do, why, and whether there might be another way of living other than by following the Independent Baptist teachings.
This one-woman show, featuring actress Arielle Rombough, is not a direct address show – Maranatha is talking to a being that’s not there who, at first, you’re led to believe is God, but about halfway through the show, there’s a heartbreaking reveal of who she’s actually talking to, which I won’t spoil here. Suffice it to say though, that the being she’s addressing is very familiar with her faith, which is why The Good Bride is able to walk that line of showing without imposing an opinion so well. Maranatha doesn’t stop to explain any of the words or concepts she’s using – the audience has to figure it out as we keep up with her train-of-thought monologue. This choice by Rosemary is so brilliant – if Maranatha were to have to stop and explain what she means (like a direct address play would have her do), that very act would encourage the audience to actively think about, and potentially judge, what she’s saying. Instead, she speaks using the words that she’s known her entire life and doing that forces the audience to look beyond the practice and instead see Maranatha’s experience of those practices. Along with her, we’re a little worried about why her father is taking so long to bring Pete to her, but we’re trusting that he will.
The Good Bride isn’t a commentary on the Independent Baptist faith, it’s an exploration of one person’s journey within that faith at a time where, while she’s still under the guidance and authority of the Pullmans, she’s experiencing the most independence she’s had so far in her life. What’s been written about the experience of women who follow the Independent Baptist faith makes it seem as though they have blind obedience to their faith, but The Good Bride shows the humanity of someone who does truly believe but has to reconcile the questions she has with her faith. I won’t spoil the ending, but Rosemary leaves the resolution to the play open-ended, and the final image Northern Light Theatre’s production leaves audiences with honors the playwright’s intention to show Maranatha’s journey and not to impose anyone’s thoughts or judgments onto the outcome.
Arielle Rombough brings all the right energy and mannerisms to 15-year-old Maranatha. With the pacing Northern Light Theatre has used in this production, Arielle starts out the show as a ball of energy and pre-marital excitement, amplified by her age and the belief that she is finally fulfilling her pre-ordained destiny – to be a wife. Arielle is delightful as she flies between praying by the door to preening in front of the mirror to looking through her scrapbook of special moments in her relationship with Pete. Arielle nails that sense of being boy-crazy, being cooped up in a room for 9 hours a day, and nervous energy coming from not knowing what’s next for her. Not to mention her comedic timing delivering Maranatha’s lines about the questions she has about sex with all the seriousness of a 15-year-old on the verge of getting married.
For a show that is based around the passing of time, I have to make a mention of how much I loved how that idea was carried through into Sydney Gross’ set design, which was an abstract representation of a clock made out of panels of flowery or lacy fabric radiating out from behind Maranatha’s bed.
The Good Bride is presented by Northern Light Theatre at the PCL Studio, running until October 24. Tickets are $18 – $28 available through Northern Light Theatre or at the door. There is a guest speaker salon with Maggie Barton Baird (who runs a wedding planning company) and Dan Taylor (a pastor and comic) on October 21 after the show and a post-show talkback with Director Trevor Schmidt and actress Arielle Rombough on October 22.
Check out my preview of The Good Bride, where I interviewed actress Arielle Rombough. Savanna Harvey, the brilliant book and theatre vlogger known as The Pretentious English Major, and my date on opening night has posted a video of us discussing the show – warning! – it contains spoilers.